If you aren’t doing anything on Saturday 18th August, why not pop down to the South Coast of England as I’ve decided to lead a Seaside infrastructure Safari and you’re all welcome. Yes, even you.
It will be a very leisurely run between Worthing and Brighton, stopping frequently for chats about infrastructure of different qualities and, weather permitting, we can stop for a picnic midway on the beach and a drink or two afterwards. There is a high probability that it will run from Worthing to Brighton as opposed to vice versa due to the strong chance of a prevailing tailwind straight off the sea which, as I find on the daily commute, makes an 11-12 mile jaunt between two seaside resorts a little more pleasant. There shall be a Twitter Hashtag available for those in more distant lands that wish to follow us in spirit and all pictures and data shall be added to the wonderful Cycling Embassy of Great Britain Wiki as well as CycleStreets.
I intend to show you some of the interesting facilities that I face (or could face if I was a bit more into Masochism) on a day-to-day basis such as this, this and this as well as some gems such as this, this and the ultimate Grand Finale – the wonderfully progressive (if slightly flawed) diamond that is this. I am currently working on a map for you to link to which will be available shortly as the route is pretty simple with lots of talking points and genuinely nice sights. It’s a cycle ride by the sea – what’s not to like?! It will also go up on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website.
The reason I’m letting you know early is because, if you are a campaigner, Sustrans Ranger, Local Councillor etc in the Brighton [& Hove] & Worthing areas and would like to help talk us through various bits of infrastructure and how they came to be, please contact me and we can sort out the timetable of the route. If you can’t make it, but would like me to read anything out, please also get in touch. My contact details are at the bottom of the About page, and it would be lovely to hear from you, especially if you’d just like to come along of course.
Finally, I sometimes read out the questions at a quiz held occasionally at a pub in Worthing as I have a beautiful speaking voice. Apparently. However, last week I was tasked with compiling the questions. I would like the George Cross as I dropped this nugget into the General Knowledge round…
Although ‘Road Tax’ is still used as a colloquialism, it was in fact abolished in 1937. Which famous politician abolished it?
(For more details on the answer to that question, I wrote here and of course Carlton Reid is custodian of this gem of a website).
Because I was dressed like ‘one of them’, which is funnily enough how I look when on a bicycle, it was simply an interesting talking point as opposed to me being manhandled into a Wicker Man in the pub garden (it would have been outside because, despite the obvious Health & Safety hazard, you also can’t smoke inside a British public premises anymore).
And finally finally, the family car was taken away for its annual MOT test earlier this week. Despite the car being 10 years old, the startled mechanic informed us that not only did it pass with no complaints but the emissions tests came out far better than newer cars. Probably because it barely gets used.
Well! Apologies to Lo Fidelity Readers for the gaps between postings but in the end family matters and Chairing the Embassy took precedence. I realised that I wouldn’t be able to keep the usual stunningly high standards that you’ve come to know and love on this blog.
I’ll personally be happy when the policies are launched as it finally gives us the clarity we require. Let me try to very briefly explain my personal viewpoint…
Basically, despite fairly good documents like this, Councils and Highways Authorities across the land have been building stuff like this, this and this which is basically this. Usually, the only time local campaign groups get to see designs for stuff like this, this and this is when the design has already been signed off and programmed for construction but now the Councils and Highways Authorities can tick the box that they have consulted with cyclists. The designs are often slightly less dangerous than this, look like they were designed with this whilst on this and often put these in direct conflict with these. Local people then think local cyclists asked for this, this and this and councils then produce documents basically portraying themselves as this, even though they are simply paving the way for more of this.
Experienced cyclists through the years have tried to ignore stuff like this, this and this, rightfully claiming that they have the right to the road even though they sometimes get this for not using this if it’s nearby despite this.
I set up this because, like others, I started to look at stuff like this, this and from this chap and wondered what sort of forcefield must be in existence in the North Sea to stop us adopting ideas and methodologies that led to a culture of this, this or this. Their methods are not always perfect, and it would be wrong to suggest that it could be picked up and transplanted wholesale. However, the approach (along with other countries) that has proven success in delivering this, this and this has to be a bit better than this, this and this. I believe that Councils have to be stopped producing this as a matter of urgency (don’t forget, in times like these, they have a greater excuse to plead poverty despite saying the same to cyclists when times were good). It is not about putting cycle infrastructure everywhere. There is a raft of measures to be considered in terms of traffic reduction, speed restriction etc. But if we don’t do something to a decent standard, and think in terms of coherent network instead of piecemeal ‘solutions’ that act like a Band-Aid on a laceration, then cyclists using the open road in the meantime will get continuing and unwarranted abuse as more junk gets built and the bicycle will continue to not be taken seriously as a mode of transport. I cannot think of a single facility in the UK that could be used safely and comfortably by experienced cyclist and 10 year old alike guaranteeing continuity unless it occurs by accident in the form of converted railway lines. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right with no more potential for conflict with more vulnerable groups.
Phew! I’m paraphrasing a bit but that’s a personal basic outline.
Anyway, I hope you can make it.
As I was gracefully peddling in this morning through the glorious British summer murk, it occured to me that this post carries a lot of rib-tickling crap infrastructure images from Warrington Cycle Campaign’s ‘Facility of the Month’ page on their website. It is therefore only fair and proper that I not only recommend you go back every month to find out ‘how not to do it’ , but also buy their book (it is also available from decent local high street booksellers so you can buy a copy and then wander over to your County Council Highways Department infoming them that they are a published joke available internationally). Royalties go to the worthwhile CTC’s Cyclists Defence Fund
Goedendag! Sorry, just trying to get in a few Dutch phrases before heading off on the Embassy study tour with David Hembrow to see how the Netherlands designs cycle infrastructure for people who wish to ride bicycles from A to B. In the UK of course, we design cycle infrastructure for people who don’t wish to ride bicycles from A to B unless it’s via Q. In fact, our cycle infrastructure isn’t really of benefit to bicycle riders at all, but at least it could be appreciated by people who like Abstract Art or Improvisational Jazz or Crack Cocaine.
The always lovely Lazy Bicycle Blog has beaten me to it but it’s always good to spread the word. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain has launched a poster competition to coincide with its official launch in September. Obviously, having started up just 6 months ago, we are very much in our infancy so we ask those dedicated to the cause to create a poster from a photo or piece of artwork that they think best represents the aims and aspirations of the Embassy. Unbelievably, we’ve already started to receive entries which made me choke appreciatively on my afternoon tea and Fererro Rocher. I can’t enter being Chair of the Board so here are a couple of ideas I made up earlier…
I acknowledge that I’m not the most experienced or talented digital artworker and the second one in particular comes from what will become known in future years as my ‘Sarcastic Period’. However, I hope it inspires people who are also inept at slick imagery to just come up with something that conveys a simple message on what improved infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians with all its subsequent benefits would mean for you or your school or your community.
On the subject of advertising and marketing, I would like to look at a couple of other campaigns, one from the UK and one from the Netherlands to see the difference in aims and aspirations. Firstly a Cinema advert by CTC called ‘CycleHero’ in 2007 as part of a wider campaign highlighting the link between cycling and combating climate change.
From the CTC website,
‘The cornerstone of our project will be a Cinema commercial to create awareness and make people really stop and think about Climate change issues. We plan to have our advert in cinemas in the early summer period to maximise the opportunity to encourage more and more people to take their bike from the garage and go for a ride. The film will be supported by a Public Relations campaign to spread the message further and we plan to work with local CTC groups to develop a series of national and local rides, events, meetings, workshops etc, to help involve cyclists and the wider local community in publicising the issues.
‘The CTC film and its accompanying materials will use cycling as a positive image to raise awareness of and attitudes towards climate change. The project involves all those who already cycle regularly as well as those occasional and lapsed cyclists whose bike is waiting in the back of their shed. Cycling is a smart choice. Cyclists are aware of the challenges of climate change and realise, that by cycling, they are not only having fun, staying healthy and enjoying a social / sporting friendship, but also at the same time improving global sustainability. Now is a great time to spread the word.’
Indeed. I think it’s a very well made commercial, particularly for something so pro-cycling in the UK. Alas, I have a couple of issues with it. Firstly, you can hear a marketing check list being ticked off as it moves to its sun drenched climax; sexy woman – check, climate change bad – check, motoring bad – check, children – check, cool person to engage youth – check, elderly person – check, majority in helmets to pass the Advertising Standards Authority – check, representatives from different races and creeds – check and so on. Secondly, the ‘hero’ dresses up to look like someone who Robocop might consider if trying out Internet dating.
There is an instant disconnect with the audience as they are being preached at about climate change (never preach to a British audience) and that there is a difference between cycling to a beautiful traffic free cliff top and the dangerous traffic choked hell holes that the audience sees day in day out. I don’t blame CTC for any of this as they must have had to make an advert with a climate change theme as part of the funding conditions. I actually think they did incredibly well because as people who only eat, drink, sleep and breathe cycling, it’s incredibly difficult to see the World any other way, and I’m sure they had great fun making it. In a way, we will encounter the same issues at the Embassy. We feel that we have the best answer to take to the general public. The trick is in how you actually convey that message.
I love this advert, I really do. Marc at Amsterdamize has just informed me that the pay off at the end (for those that can’t speak Dutch. I can now count to 10 and order a round of drinks sounding like a Dutch Sean Connery) is “Cyclists encounter a lot of obstacles. The Cyclists Union clears the way. Become a member!” Sadly, such a positive outlook would be torn to shreds in Britain. Everyone is wearing normal clothing without helmets for a start which would mean an instant fail with the ASA. The protagonist is also stunt riding with a Devil-may-care attitude that the Daily Mail would state is the dangerous, irresponsible way that all cyclists in the UK behave already (although ‘dangerous’ and ‘irresponsible’ are words that would also describe their take on journalism).
If you reckon you can do better, get your poster to the Embassy. You don’t have to use models or climate change messages or stunt riding. Simplicity is the key, just as getting to the shops or work should be.
It is six months to the day since the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain started on a cold, cloudy day in Central London. Personally I believe that, at the very least, it has provoked debate about the future of cycling and cycle campaigning in the UK which can only be a good thing. For that alone I’m very happy with the way things have progressed.
Since then, things have developed at a steady canter (as befits a purely voluntary organisation with a wide selection of day jobs). However, it would be fair to say that I’ve easily spent over half of my time trying to placate other cycling organisations and representatives. In the end I published a blog post for Cycling Mobility outlining our position and my only regret is that I didn’t write it sooner. When a new organisation starts out, there will always be a lot of bluster, rampant enthusiasm and even anger at what has gone before. By questioning the very nature and direction of cycle campaigning in the UK, we were always going to make waves.
Here are some personal thoughts and news on how the Embassy is developing;
Our ManchesterConsulate were very quick on the ball in creating what to me is still the piece de resistance – our shiny logo. This will be the centrepiece of some lovely merchandise available soon. I’m still pondering about requests for Embassy flags for people to put on bikes to look like Ambassadorial vehicles. I’m open to further suggestions.
The wiki is continuing to develop with some extremely good contributions from helmets to Dutch Cycle Infrastructure to Subjective safety. Some Embassy members are off to the Netherlands on a study tour organised by David Hembrow to collate further information and social history to better grasp how the Dutch got to where they are now with cycle infrastructure fit for all ages, styles and speeds. Being a wiki, it is of course open to contributions from all. If you’d like to help join the research, please let us know.
We now have a bank account and PayPal is fully operational. I can put in that £80.56 now. I’d like to thank all those that have contributed thus far, it really is going to be a massive help in the future. Don’t stop now though!
Some may have noticed I’ve added Crap Cycling and Waltham Forest to our front page blog roll. Whatever people say about him/them/her, we have made the same transition in cycling belief. To me, it is a blog that represents the primal scream of cycle blogging and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an influence.
David Hembrow has kicked off the first of what I hope will be many more brilliant guest blog posts. If you would like to contribute with anything from cycling to school with your children to cycle infrastructure and the built environment, please let me know.
In April, I was kindly invited by Movement for Liveable London to give a talk. The suggestion was for something based on ‘I Want What They’re Having – How the Rest of the World is Achieving a Cycle Revolution’. The end result is here.
In June I was also invited to the Annual Parliamentary Bike Ride and appeared in a film about Blackfriars Bridge by Carlton Reid. I’m no stranger to this event, having attended as a CTC member of staff a few years ago, but it seemed to me then, as now, that it was simply a symbolic event with lots of nice, well-meaning people who were allowed into a room in the House of Lords to be told how wonderful cycling is………and that’s it, see you next year for Bike Week 2012 (which will probably be even more divorced from basic utility cycling due to Team GB and the Olympics). Such events are pleasant, good-natured affairs. I even had an amiable chat for a lengthy part of the ride with the very nice Julian Huppert MP. But that’s it. It was very well organised and nice to be there though!
Why is the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain concentrating on such a London-centric issue? Well, it’s because, to me, TfL are the carbon copy of any highways authority across the land designing dangerous drivel, more often than not with minimal consultation with the end users. Quite often there are designers, engineers and technicians within these organisations who would quite happily design something wonderful that benefitted all, but sadly can’t due to political masters committed to ‘smoothing traffic flow’ and quite often shovelling pedestrians and cyclists together safely out-of-the-way in the name of progress, or on ‘Superhighways’ that rewrite the dictionary definition of the word ‘super’. How many more people would TfL like to die before they finally get the fact that a change of approach in a city made up of people might be required?
So, the second meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain took place in Manchester last Saturday. On the train up I ended up chatting with a potential cyclist or what I like to call a ‘WALT DISNEY’ (Would Actually Love To. Danger Is Stopping Nearly Everyone Y’know). I would have pressed him further on why he didn’t cycle but more pressing matters were on his mind. He was an AFC Wimbledon supporter on his way to Manchester City’s ground for the play off against Luton Town with the winner gaining promotion to the football league. All the Luton Town fans got on at Milton Keynes Central and the atmosphere was packed but surprisingly convivial. I was the only one with a Brompton.
I was looking forward to this meeting for ages, partly because in my 38 years on this planet, I had never been to Manchester [and for which I must hold my head in shame] but also the Embassy has received some excellent support (not to mention the fantastic logo design) from the North West. It was organised by Mr C of MCR Cycling and it was lovely to meet other wonderful bloggers such as Naturally Cycling Manchester & Sheffield Cycle Chic, local cycle campaigners and welcome representation from Inclusive Cycling. The Infrastructure Safari led by Mr C to and from the venue was quite psychedelic as we took a trip through a kaleidoscope of different types of cycle facilities that had been clearly shoehorned into a car-centric area. It was only a 10 minute ride but we saw shared use off road paths, on road with-flow cycle lanes (with cars parked in them), shared use pedestrianised areas, some not bad, some clearly designed by someone on LSD and Windowlene with no continuity or priority on any of it.
A lot was discussed. In fact it was a pleasurable problem trying to stick to the agenda. The minutes will be published very shortly but four points I’d like to mention are as follows:
I’ve just paid my deposit and will be chasing up others soon for a trip to the Netherlands to meet David Hembrow and go on one of his study tours. If you are free on the week beginning 21st September and would like to go please let me know by email as soon as possible (email@example.com) as I close the book at the end of this week. All people that have already committed will be given further instruction by email for what will be a very worthwhile trip (as it was in this instance).
The Embassy website will have an official blog where people can submit material. This is partly to keep the ideas flowing and the website fresh but also because Embassy followers have written personal blog posts in the past to suddenly get leapt on by others wrongly assuming that they are speaking officially on behalf of the Embassy and their words are Embassy policy.
The constitution was altered slightly and then ratified. People were nominated for posts and these will be published in the minutes. I officially became Chair and I would like to thank everyone for allowing me the chance to serve. A further motion was carried unanimously that I should be Cannonised despite being Church of England and still alive. I was then unanimously carried through the streets of Manchester through cheering crowds being the hero that I am. Actually, I might have dreamt the last couple of bits. I had spent a lot of time on the train. Sadly, I could only spend a few hours in Manchester which is no time to meet such nice people. I vowed to return for one of these.
It looks as though the next venue will be Newcastle. This will be confirmed along with the date
The following day, The Wife, The Boy and I went for a stroll along Worthing Prom. One of The Wife’s friends has bought a toy that attaches to the front of a buggy. The fact that The Boy keeps pressing the button that plays ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ isn’t the most annoying thing about it…..
A Very Windswept Boy using the same equipment that most people presumbly use to pass their driving tests in the UK these days
…….it basically resembles the plastic dashboard of a Smart Car or the Kia range. I don’t wish to sound ungrateful of course. Anything that keeps The Boy amused for hours on end is happily recieved. Luckily I’ve bought one of these (with seal of approval from Mumsnet no less!) with one of these so The Boy isn’t quite so windswept on lazy Dutch Bike rides along the seafront – the correct & civilized way for a young child to see the World.
Last Tuesday I gave my first public talk on behalf of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain at the Yorkshire Grey pub in London W1. A packed upstairs room looked on in admiration (I think) as I warbled on for an hour about ‘I Want What They’re Having – How the Rest of the World is Achieving a Real Cycling Revolution’. I was rather nervous and mispronounced ‘Utrecht’ a lot. I do hope however, that [with more than a little help from others] I got the message across that; there is an answer, it’s been developed over decades, it has proven success, it lies mainly across the North Sea and its continuing denial in this country is starting to go beyond amusing. If you have a spare hour and you are catastrophically bored, please listen in.
It’s been a day of mixed feelings at the Embassy, the great news is that we are working on a map of shops and businesses that support cycling as the simple mode of transport that it should be. Thanks to Anthony Cartmell and we of course welcome all your submissions and ideas to add. The tragic news is that the Fererro Rocher heir has died in a cycling accident in South Africa.
Meanwhile on Radio 4 today You and Yours looked at the issue of cyclist safety in the light of recent headline fatalities, particularly with HGVs. What was noticeable in this programme again was the complete absence of tried and tested infrastructure used in Europe. As usual, it descended to the regular arguments about whether cyclists should be taxed and insured and breaking red lights. Whilst the programme makers tried very hard to make it as balanced as possible, it felt like part of the larger campaigning merry-go-round where cycling gets flagged up as an issue in a programme or newspaper and the usual people wheel out the same old debate that gets repeated ad infinitum and round and round we go.
So Edmund King, President of the Automobile Association and keen cyclist, is heading an initiative to give away 5000 helmets along with Hi-Viz tabards in Central London today. The aim of ‘Cycle Safety Day’ is to hand out this safety gear to people using Boris Bikes (in case you’re wondering why they’re just focussing on London), I assume to protect them from AA members and their van drivers.
Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize has also spoken out:
“While it’s great that the AA president is also a cyclist, this is merely another case of placing the responsibility on the vulnerable traffic users instead of tackling the rampant bull in our society – the automobile. It also sends dangerous signals that bicycle helmets are effective in collisions with cars, which they’re not. They’re not even designed for that kind of impact.
“If the AA wants to be taken seriously, it should consider promoting motoring helmets and, for example, fight for strict liability and back initiatives like the Dutch one of making external airbags on cars to protect pedestrians and cyclists a standard accessory.”
Whilst I’m sure that Mr King is acting with the best intentions, and I have nothing against him personally at all, this sends out all the wrong messages for cycling. At best his move makes the simple act of riding a bicycle look far from simple. It tells the public that the only way you can get from A to B safely on a bicycle is when dressed up as a cross between a coal miner and Liberace. At worst it looks like a cynical move by a motoring organisation that wants cyclists to act as mobile reflective road signs to allow for easier motoring. It looks like a move to enforce the burden of responsibility on to the most vulnerable road users. It looks like a move to justify insurance companies (such as the AA) not having to pay out so much if the cycling victim in a road accident isn’t wearing a helmet. Basically, it’s treating cycling like a stubborn stain that won’t go away.
As stated before on this blog, if we have arrived at a situation where grown men and women feel the need not just to armour themselves to ride a bicycle, but to put surveillance measures on that armour, then something is severely wrong with riding a bicycle in this country. What hope is there for our nations children that wish to cycle to school?
What’s really bizarre is that for all this debate and argument on what’s best for British road safety, no-one seems to be even daring to look North or East across the North Sea where real proven, tried and tested solutions may be found. The Netherlands and Denmark have had 2 to 3 decades of developing infrastructure for riding bicycles. They have made mistakes, have learnt from those mistakes and are still learning.
So, back to basics. Here is a film from Mark Wagenbuur regarding a country that acknowledges that far more people young and old, rich or poor will have access to a bicycle than a car and therefore makes that a priority, as any civilized nation should. Please note that helmets and hi-viz are regarded as irrelevant, as is the need for lycra. Also note the children cycling, not just to and from school, but also popping home for lunch completely independently. Please note that this country currently has the best road safety record in the World.
For those of you that instantly think ‘it can’t be done’, the Highways Agency recently revealed a [potential] £1 billion overspend on the M25 widening project. That’s £1 billion on just one road scheme, which is almost double the £560 million of ‘local transport’ funding that’s been cast out to the provinces. The real money is there alright. Also the infrastructure solutions available to us have been tried and tested, and then some. The picture below is from the always wonderful blog of David Hembrow.
It shows a bin placed near a school in Assen so kids don’t even need to slow down to dispose of the rubbish or litter the local area. That’s right, the Dutch have even created the perfect synergy between bicycle rider and rubbish bin. No helmets in that picture either.
We need to make cycling normal again. We have to return it as a mode of transport. In normal clothing.
Mikael Colville-Andersen sometimes refers to ‘Citizen Cyclists’. This is the masses using the bicycle as a simple tool to get from A to B without the need to resemble a carnival float. This is for people who don’t regard themselves as ‘cyclists’ per se but just use the bicycle by default shorter journeys because it is easy. They are not regarded as engaging in a specialist activity or being part of a sub culture. They are just people getting to the pub or the shops but on a bicycle. In the UK we have gone out of our way to make the most difficult mode of transport easy and the easiest mode of transport complicated and it is to this country’s detriment in every way.
I don’t believe the phrase ‘Citizen Cyclist’ would work in the UK however as it has communist, revolutionary connotations that the British might find a little unpalatable (when I started a campaign group in Worthing called ‘Worthing Revolution’, I was asked the change the ‘Revolution’ to ‘Revolutions’ as ‘Revolution’ sounded a bit too….well…..Revolutionary for a seaside town).
Instead, I would therefore like to propose ‘THE PEOPLES TRANSPORT’ as a way of pitching the bicycle to the 97% of people who don’t know that they’re regular bicycle riders yet. Seeing as more people in the UK can walk or use a bicycle than drive a car, then surely improved access for those two modes should be prioritised. Especially as motorists don’t pay for the roads. At the moment, the People have their place but the car comes first as opposed to how it should be – that the car has its place but the people come first. We can’t keep sticking little hats and bright clothing on people in the hope that this will make things better. It’s just not cricket (cricket actually requires armour, take it from someone who knows).
If the Government can commit to the idea of a bicycle being a mode of transport, if the AA can stop putting the burden of responsibility on the vulnerable as opposed to its members, if we can implement a range of infrastructure measures that are decent, fast, direct, that opens up communities and is fit for our children and other more vulnerable members of society then we can hold our heads high once more, without a helmet. To me, being able to buy a bigger car (with AA membership) doesn’t make us a decent, civilized nation. Leaving it in the driveway and exercising the freedom to walk or cycle to the local shops does.
A bit rambling I know but that’s the beauty of Dutch Bike riding. Lots of thinking time. Probably too much really.